Gordon Lightfoot Album Reviews

Reviewed by Wayne Francis

Harmony has arrived and it's impact is undeniable, delivered in Lightfoot's understated and inimitable style. It's his 20th album of original material, the latest in a remarkable line of work stretching back to the 60's. He continues to maintain the stunning level of consistency he has lived up to album after album, that sets him apart from so many of his contemporaries. I've read recently how many critics and casual observers alike have hailed Harmony as a return to form for Lightfoot, and while their intent may be honourable, I believe they do him a disservice - I would argue that his form has never been lost and his entire recorded catalog is proof positive.

On Harmony, for the first time since the early 80's Lightfoot has had to deal with "love lost" as topic number one when it came time write these new songs. He manages to walk a fine line of dealing head on with the issue without ever wandering into the perilous territory of self-pity. No easy task in light of circumstances, but Lightfoot is ever conscience of what makes a song work, even amid the hurt he describes in the songs themselves.

The tone of the songs here reminds me so much of Sundown, a period of personal upheaval as well, but where he would find solace on the roads of Somewhere USA back then, now we find him wandering the rooms of his empty house asking aloud "is there anybody home, don't you know I'm all alone" or "everywhere I roam, there is nobody home", lines that are gut-wrenching in their simplicity, honesty and power. Inspiration Lady takes on a whole new meaning when listened to in context of the entire album. She is his inspiration in so many of these new songs to be sure, but it is in her leaving from which he draws upon this inspiration - as always, Lightfoot songs work on so many levels all at once. Even Flyin' Blind, which on the surface is a straightforward tale of adventure, is awash in metaphor, intended or otherwise, as he calls on Jessi-Jo to guide him through the cold world he now finds himself in as he is flying blind, trying to regain a foothold amid the clouds of loneliness. The title track also seems to be about a woman, because as he writes in the liner notes, music has always been his only refuge, by extension reading between the lines, finding harmony in love has been much more elusive. No Mistake About It finds him in Sundown-era mode again, directing controlled scorn at a departed lover in a way Lightfoot has made his own, all the while delivering the vocal in a very sinewy fashion - moving like a snake, as it were. Powerful stuff!

The melodies are strong and unique, from the gentle lilt of Harmony through the flowing River Of Light (it's great the way he stretches "evening" into three syllables), the insistent groove of The No Hotel, the native Canadian cadence of Couchiching and the hypnotic majesty of Shellfish. And there are hooks a-plenty! The choruses of Inspiration Lady, Sometimes I Wish and No Mistake About It for example, stay with you long after the music is over. There are a few cases where it seems like a line here and there might have been considered for a re-write prior to the "official" recording sessions, had Lightfoot had the benefit of that luxury, but overall those instances are few and far between and do not diminish or distract from the effectiveness of any particular song.

Of course as a backdrop to all of this has been Lightfoot's brush with death and continuing recovery. Through it all he orchestrated his band from his hospital bed, with unofficial fifth member Bob Doidge in tow, through the process of bringing this album to fruition. The Lightfoot band again demonstrates their intuitive abilty to know  exactly what, and perhaps just as importantly, what is not needed to make a song click. The arrangements and playing are bang on for what each song calls for. River Of Light, played in Lightfoot's patented drone "E" key, is so grounded in the Lightfoot style, yet the playing and songwriting are so inventive it never gets repetitive. Red Shea's return is also a welcome treat, as are his electric guitar lines, most notably on Flyin' Blind. Terry Clements is as always superlative throughout, in particular on The No Hotel, Shellfish and End Of All Time. Mike's delicate accordion touch on Harmony is a delight, as are his inspired flourishes on Inspiration Lady (until I saw the credits, I believed some real strings were employed there!). The rhythm section is rock solid as per usual, Rick Haynes gives us some real bass lessons especially on Harmony, The No Hotel, No Mistake About It and Couchiching, while Barry Keane again is so tastfully solid, whether behind the full kit or lending great percussive performances in songs like Couchiching or Flyin' Blind. Lightfoot is justifiably proud of his long association with these outstanding musicians.

Harmony is a singular album in Lightfoot's career, in that it was built around demos recorded prior to his being "felled...by mechanical failure", as only Gord could so matter-of-factly put it. I can't help but wonder which of the nine other demos taped during those fateful two days of recording he did at Grant Ave. in mid 2002 that we will get to hear on a future album, but for now we have the 11 new songs preserved on Harmony to enjoy and look forward to the day when Lightfoot and his band will bring them to the concert stages near us all.

Thanks Gord, until next time...